Johnson v. Steele
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER - IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that petitioner's ex parte motion to authorize expert expenses [ECF No. 31 ] is DENIED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk shall lift the ex parte restrictions on the motion and docket it appropriately.. Signed by District Judge Carol E. Jackson on 8/21/14. (KKS)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
No. 4:13CV2046 CEJ
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on petitioner’s ex parte request under 18 U.S.C. § 3599(f)
for authorization to retain a forensic psychiatrist to evaluate petitioner’s decision-making
capabilities and how they were affected by developmental trauma in his youth. For the following
reasons, the request will be denied.
Petitioner was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder. Johnson v. State, 406 S.W.3d
892, 897 (Mo. banc 2013). The trial court adopted the jury’s recommendation and sentenced
him to death. Id. The evidence established that on July 5, 2005, police officers were in
petitioner’s neighborhood conducting an investigation. Id. Coincidentally, petitioner’s younger
brother suffered a seizure at his home and the police officers who were in the neighborhood were
summoned to help. Id. The officers called for an ambulance, and additional officers were called
to the scene. Id. Petitioner’s brother was taken to the hospital, but he died a short time later due
to a preexisting heart condition. Id. Later the same day, petitioner retrieved a handgun from his
vehicle. Id. He told his friends that the officers were responsible for his brother’s death. Id.
While walking through the neighborhood, petitioner encountered one of the officers who had
responded to help his brother. As the officer sat in his patrol car, petitioner shot and killed him.
Id. at 898.
Under 18 U.S.C. § 3599(f), the Court may authorize payments for expert services that
“are reasonably necessary for the representation of [a capital habeas petitioner], whether in
connection with issues relating to guilt or the sentence.” At issue is whether the requested expert
services are reasonably necessary for the presentation of petitioner’s federal habeas claims.
Petitioner argues that both trial counsel and postconviction counsel failed to investigate
or develop claims regarding his childhood trauma and its effects on his decision-making abilities
at the time of the offense.
Petitioner concedes that postconviction counsel presented the
evidence of two psychologists who testified that petitioner suffered from acute stress disorder
(“ASD”) at the time of the murder. However, petitioner argues that the diagnosis of acute stress
disorder did not take into consideration the effect of the abuse and privation petitioner suffered
from for most of his life.
Trial and post-conviction counsels’ investigations were materially incomplete.
For one thing, an acute stress disorder is just that: acute. The diagnosis, and the
information provided to the evaluators, does not fully account for the long term
effects of repeated traumatization in Mr. Johnson’s early childhood years in the
absence of the type of parental nurture and support that might have mitigated the
impact of those stressors. Such stressors include ongoing physical abuse by
numerous caregivers; abject neglect by a mother who failed to provide material
support or adult supervision, and who left the family to live in rat-infested and
otherwise unsanitary conditions; and abandonment not only by petitioner’s
mother, but also by his father, who spent the most of his son’s childhood
imprisoned for second-degree murder. This extremely lethal combination of
repeated traumatization and the absence of parental nurture and support can have
multiple serious impacts on the developing child, any one of which can render the
individual vulnerable to distorted perceptions, hypervigilance, over-reactivity and
generally poor decision-making. A qualified specialist must assess whether and
how the known ongoing traumatic events impaired Mr. Johnson’s development.
Ex Parte Mot. at 5 (citation omitted).
Petitioner claims that the current mitigation investigation has revealed new sources of
developmental trauma that should be examined by a forensic psychiatrist.
petitioner’s history of extensive sexual abuse at the hands of petitioner’s cousins and others;
continuous violence in the community; and ongoing institutional racism especially as between
the Kirkwood Police Department and the residents of the Meacham Park neighborhood.” Id. at
5-6. Petitioner also claims that he hears voices, which he regards as alter-egos, and that he heard
those voices at the time of the murder.
Petitioner seeks to retain Richard G. Dudley, Jr., M.D., who lives and works in New
York, for services in the amount of $44,550. Petitioner maintains that Dr. Dudley would require
a total of 123 hours to interview petitioner, interview petitioner’s close relatives and friends,
review relevant records, consult with counsel, draft a report, and travel to and from New York.
Petitioner’s trial counsel chose not to present a diminished-capacity defense. Johnson v.
State, No. SC92448, Appellant’s Br., 2012 WL 6825478 *57-58 (Oct. 29, 2012). “[C]ounsel’s
strategy was to present standing alone the facts of what they considered a compelling story about
Kevin’s reaction to his brother’s death because everyone has experienced the death of a loved
In his amended postconviction motion, petitioner argued that trial counsel was
ineffective for failing to investigate and present records showing that petitioner was suffering
from ASD at the time of the murder and was therefore unable to deliberate.
Id. at *58.
Postconviction counsel further argued that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to present
evidence of petitioner’s childhood abuse during the penalty phase. Id. at *61.
Postconviction counsel presented the testimony of two psychologists, Dr. Levin and Dr.
Cross. Id. at *39.
Psychologist Daniel Levin testified in the post-conviction case to Kevin’s history
and mental functioning, based on his meeting with Kevin and his review of more
than 3,500 pages of Kevin's records from DFS; St. Louis County Family Court
and Department of Mental Health; St. John’s Hospital; several residential
placements; and DOC; plus police reports, the trial transcript; Kevin’s testimony,
relevant statutes, and Levin’s own report.
Id. at *2-3.
Dr. Cross also reviewed petitioner’s records. Id. at 49. In addition, he “administered
multiple tests – the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS), the Wide Range Achievement
Test (WRAT), the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), the Traumatic Stress
Inventory (TSI), the Detailed Assessment of Post-Traumatic Stress (DAPS) (last 3), the
Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), and the Rotter Incomplete Sentence Blank.” Id. at 52. The
tests showed that petitioner “had high levels of traumatic stress throughout his developmental
years” and difficulty making decisions. Id.
Levin and Cross both testified at length that the abuse and privation petitioner suffered
throughout most of his life led to ASD at the time of the murder. For example,
Levin recounted that DFS became involved when [petitioner’s mother] Jada was
hotlined when Kevin was two years old. The family had severe financial stress Kevin's father was in prison for murder, and Jada, one of nine children, was very
young when she started having children. The initial report was about Jada going
out and leaving her children unsupervised.
Kevin's home conditions included a very cold home -- it had broken windows and
no heat -- no cooking, refrigeration, or bathroom facilities, and electricity through
an extension cord from [Jada's grandmother] Henrietta's house. Jada's felony
probation for assault with a knife was significant because it showed she was
already having problems when DFS entered her life.
Jada's mother Patricia Ward reported concerns to DFS; Jada was often not home,
and her whereabouts were often unknown. That pattern was repeated many times
over the years of DFS involvement: workers found Kevin, age two, outside in
December with a thin jacket and no socks, supervised only by an eight-to-nineyear-old child; Jada appeared unconcerned about her children, and did not take
any action to dress them, instead sending them to find their own clothes and dress
themselves for the cold.
Levin noted that in February, 1988 a Meacham Park Clinic social worker called
DFS, also concerned about Jada's ability to parent Kevin and his siblings based on
her observation that Jada was limited intellectually with an I.Q. of 70.
Jada took her AFDC check and left for long periods, then returned without any
money, having spent it on drugs; the children were not being properly clothed and
fed. When a DFS worker went to the home, she found it dirty and roach infested.
Two fires in the home about a year apart strongly evidenced neglect.
Jada went into a drug program because her probation officer required it, but she
did not complete it; the counselors noted her poor attitude on entry, and assessed
her as chronically chemically dependent. It is significant to a child when a parent
is addicted to crack, as was Jada -- it affects all aspects of one's ability to function
as a parent; getting the drug is the sole preoccupation. Two days after leaving the
program, Jada hit Kevin's brother Marcus near the eye with a shoe.
Observations of lack of supervision included: the children fighting, Kevin and his
sister wearing dirty clothes, Jada leaving a hot iron in a room with several small
children, and Kevin and another boy playing with a large running fan.
A DFS worker noted that the children “appear to suffer from environmental
Levin recounted that DFS continuously got calls from family about Jada staying
out all night or otherwise failing to supervise or otherwise care for the children.
Life Skills reported that she left Kevin unsupervised in a park. Jada shouted at,
threatened, and struck her children.
A Life Skills report in July indicated that Jada slapped her children on the head,
arms and buttocks an average of three times per hour. Levin explained that it is
never appropriate to hit a two-year-old in the head; a two-year-old child is
completely dependent upon his parent for care and safety, and cannot defend
himself against an adult physically. Such hitting, combined with the neglect Jada
showed, only adds to the child's sense that the world is unsafe, and he cannot trust
his parents to care for him.
One month after a drug rehabilitation stay, Jada was back to using drugs and left
her children to get high.
October and November 1988 Life Skills summaries noted that Jada was again
observed disciplining her children by hitting them. The November report also
indicated that the instructor intervened twice to protect the children from Jada,
only to have Kevin attempt to bite the instructor. An October hotline to DFS
reported that Jada was continuing to abandon her children with her mother or
grandmother. Jada was not just vanishing, but was taking Kevin with her for
hours at a time; she was using cocaine, prostituting herself, and was taking Kevin,
who had just turned three, along with her.
Levin recounted that in December, 1988, a Meacham Park Clinic physician called
the hotline because when Jada brought the children, they were filthy and smelled
of urine, and Jada seemed disoriented. A risk assessment by DFS put Jada's
children mostly in the high risk category, due to Jada's drug abuse and limited
A family member called DFS in December, 1988, and said Jada had received her
AFDC $600 check, took Kevin with her while he was still in his pajamas, and did
not return until 5:00 the next morning with only $100 left, having spent her
money on drugs. Taking Kevin on drug runs at age three had negative
psychological consequences on him.
In December, 1988, the children were found inappropriately dressed and dirty;
Jada's behavior had not changed. Jada was arrested and incarcerated in December
1988. After her release in January 1989, there was another call to DFS about the
lack of supervision of the children. Jada tested positive for cocaine in January.
The Court placed custody of Kevin's brother Marcus with Patricia Ward in April
1989, but Kevin and his sister remained with Jada.
In May 1989, Jada was staying out all night and using cocaine; she hit the
children and was very short-tempered. Also in May, Jada took the children to a
friend's house and abandoned them there without asking the friend. Jada was
suspected of having stabbed a man who failed to deliver her drugs.
Patricia made a hotline call in July 1989; she was very concerned that the children
were being exposed to drug use, and also to sexual behavior. The home was
unacceptable -- there were rats and no unspoiled food. When asked where she had
been until 3:30 a.m., Jada said she was in a motel with her boyfriend, “flatbacking.”
Also in July, Jada abandoned the children with Patricia. A few days later, Patricia
called DFS concerning a physical injury - she saw Kevin and Jada walking on the
street late at night; Kevin had a large mark on his forehead, and when she asked
him how he got hurt, he said his mother kicked him and knocked him down.
A response to a hotline call revealed no food in the home. Jada was using her food
stamp money for cocaine. Jada's probation officer called DFS in August 1989 to
report that Jada was mistreating Kevin in her office -- she reported Jada was
yelling at him and hitting him. She was also seen slapping Kevin on the head and
back at the health clinic in August.
DFS placed Kevin at age four and a half with his great Aunt Edythe Richey.
Edythe would hit Kevin for bedwetting. Levin noted at times Kevin acted out, but
that was a manifestation of the neglect and abuse he endured.
Levin recounted that Kevin's father was paroled from prison when Kevin was
thirteen or fourteen and he beat Kevin. Kevin then spent time at St. Joseph's Boys'
Home where he attempted suicide. From St. Joseph's, Kevin went to SouthPointe
Psychiatric Hospital. At these facilities, Kevin did not get appropriate treatment.
At SouthPointe Kevin displayed illogical, tangential disorganized thinking. Kevin
was prescribed Ritalin for attention deficit disorder and the anti-depressant
Imipramine. Kevin's DFS records reflected a diagnosis of Major Depression.
Kevin's sister Kanesha's records reflected she was a diagnosed with bipolar
disorder, and with crank, cannabis, and alcohol abuse, and ADHD.
At ages fifteen through seventeen, Kevin returned to living with Edythe. A social
worker at Catholic Charities found that Kevin lacked a sense of security and
stability in his relationships with adults.
When Levin saw Kevin prior to this offense, when Kevin was seventeen, he
diagnosed Kevin as having an on-going type of depression referred to as
dysthymia, and also adjustment disorder with mixed disturbance of emotions and
Levin's post-conviction evaluation found that at the time of the offense Kevin
suffered from the mental disease or defect, Acute Stress Disorder. ASD develops
in response to an extreme acute stress. To be diagnosed with this disorder, a
person must have witnessed or have been confronted with an event that involved
actual or threatened death or serious injury or a threat to the physical integrity of
oneself or others and the person's response involved intense fear, helplessness, or
horror. That happened to Kevin when he witnessed his twelve year old brother,
Bam-Bam, die. Kevin felt both a sense of responsibility and horror for his
Id. at *41-47 (citations to the record omitted).
Further investigation of petitioner’s developmental trauma is not necessary as any such
evidence would be merely cumulative. Contrary to petitioner’s assertion, Drs. Levin and Cross
concluded that petitioner’s developmental trauma was the cause of his ASD at the time of the
murder. As a result, the motion is denied.
Finally, § 3599(f) prohibits ex parte requests for expert services “unless a proper showing
is made concerning the need for confidentiality.”
Petitioner argues that confidentiality is
necessary because the request reveals his litigation strategy. The Court disagrees. Petitioner is
simply attempting to bolster a claim that was presented to the state courts. Confidentiality is not
necessary, and the Court will order that the ex parte restrictions on the motion be lifted.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that petitioner’s ex parte motion to authorize expert
expenses [ECF No. 31] is DENIED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk shall lift the ex parte restrictions on the
motion and docket it appropriately.
Dated this 21st day of August, 2014.
CAROL E. JACKSON
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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